I’ll be honest. I don’t have much of a rooting interest in this year’s NFL Playoffs. With the Eagles out of the picture, I don’t care who wins the Super Bowl (as long as it’s not the Giants). Drew Brees and the Saints? Fine with me. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? Sure. Why not?
But I am looking forward to the unrivaled excitement that the NFL Playoffs never fail to produce. And I’m looking forward to wagering a few dollars on these contests, too. So if you’re a degenerate like me and searching for a little advice about how to play this weekend’s games, well then read on as I break down Wild Card Weekend and make my Saturday gambling selections.
Bengals at Texans Sat. 4:30 PM (NBC)
Line: Texans -3, O/U 38.5
These two teams faced off in a Week 14 matchup that saw the Bengals blow what was nearly a wire-to-wire lead in a 20-19 Texans win. T.J. Yates completed 26 of 44 passes for 300 yards, including a last second touchdown pass to WR Kevin Walter that sealed the Houston win. I remember that game well because I had the god damn Bengals as a two-point favorite. I figured they needed the game if they wanted a realistic chance at making the postseason. Funny how that worked out, huh?
So here we are four weeks later as these two teams meet again. And there a few things that jump out at me about this contest.
In order to win this game, the Texans will have to take the pressure off Yates. They can’t possibly rely on him to throw for 300 yards again this week if they plan to win. Yates didn’t have the services of WR Andre Johnson in that game, but it’s still unlikely that he’ll replicate those numbers this week. In that that Week 14 matchup, Arian Foster struggled, gaining only 41 yards on 15 carries. Ben Tate bested Foster’s 2.7 YPC with eight carries for 67 yards. Though I expect the Texans to take some shots early in the game, I think they will ultimately get the football to their two backs as much as possible.
Similarly, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton will have to avoid turnovers and hope that veteran tailback Cedric Benson can carry the load. Benson carried the ball 21 times for 91 yards in the first meeting, gaining 4.3 YPC.
So how’s this thing going to play out?
I expect the Texans to come out and take some chances in front of their home crowd. They’re going to want to get an early lead and put the pressure on the Bengals’ young offense. And then they’ll try turn to their run game to shorten things up.
But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the Bengals’ underrated defense is going to be prepared for those early shots, forcing the Texans into predictable run situations.
I expect Dalton to be more efficient than the banged up Yates in the passing game, and Cedric Benson to carry the load for the Bengals. I get that the Bengals have been dismal against winning opponents this season. And I get that they’ve already lost at home against Houston and that the Texans were missing their best offensive weapon. But as we know in football, if it makes sense, then it probably won’t work out that way.
This might be the most difficult game of the week to predict, but I don’t think the Texans are in the position to be laying three points in this game. I also expect both offenses to struggle.
Two trends really stick out to me when looking at this game:
1) Quarterbacks making their first start in the playoffs are 2-10 ATS as home favorites since 2002.
2) Bengals are 17-9 ATS as underdogs since 2009.
I’m going with the Bengals +3 for 2 units and under 38.5 for 1 unit.
Bengals 19, Texans 16